In an unprecedented move for the organization, Chicago House has unveiled a new nine-bedroom facility to house transgender people on Chicago's North Side.
The organization opened up the building for tours at a special meeting of Chicago's Transgender Coalition April 18.
"We plan for this to be a safe haven and residential facility for transgender persons," said Rev. Stan Sloan, CEO of Chicago House.
Nine transgender people will live in the four-story house before year's end.
Chicago House formerly used the building for hospice services, but as HIV-related deaths have slowed, the need for the site diminished. What has not diminished, said Sloan, is the need for affirming housing and support for transgender people. The location of the building is not being made public, due to concerns that doing so might make it a target for anti-trans violence.
The building will house transgender people regardless of their HIV status and connect them to case management, job training, healthcare, workshops and other services. Dr. Robert Garofalo, an HIV expert at Children's Memorial Hospital, and others from his department will administer health services at the site weekly.
The announcement represents an expansion of services and cultural competency for Chicago House, an organization that has served HIV-positive for more than 25 years. According to Sloan, all Chicago House staff members have received a day-long transgender training.
The idea for the project was inspired by Trisha Holloway, a young transgender woman who was kicked out her house at age 18 when she came out as trans. At age 21, Holloway got connected with Chicago House and began working at Sweet Miss Giving's, the organization's transitional job bakery.
Sloan said that Holloway said she felt unsupported as a trans person at the bakery.
"She educated us more than we educated her," said Sloan.
Chicago House staff also reported that many transgender people arrive for Chicago House services dressed as their birth-assigned gender because they are afraid to be out. The organization is hoping to curb some of that fear in directly taking up transgender issues.
In addition to launching the housing project, Chicago House will begin a job placement and training program for transgender people similar to its current employment program.
Sloan said that program as a 40 percent success rate of placing people with HIV into jobs. That number jumps to 70 percent for Chicago House clients in supportive housing, he added.
Job workshops will deal specifically with issues facing transgender people, such as when to come out as trans to an employer and what rights trans employees have. Clients will also be paired with mentors in the community who will help train them in specific careers.
Finally, Chicago House will do outreach and education to employers about transgender people in an effort combat the job discrimination that faces trans people at alarming rates.
Chicago House will also be hiring transgender people to staff the new house and programs, Sloan said.
Sloan emphasized the role of other organizations in making the project happen. Chicago House will be teaming up with agencies like Center on Halsted to make the project a reality. Pete Subkoviak of AIDS Foundation of Chicago has also been instrumental in the process, Sloan said.
All told, the new housing will cost an estimated $250,000 a year. Sloan hopes to get that money through a grant. The building is ready for occupancy, he said, and the program can launch almost immediately after the funds are secured.